Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Holiday

Taking some time to rejuvenate. Hope you are too!! Have a wonderful holiday season!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Making Time With Your Teen

A middle schooler writes to Ask Amy:" In my family, almost every night my mother and father watch adult oriented TV and movies. I am allowed to come into the room when they are watching, but I would really like to play a board game with them or even watch a family appropriate movie instead. My mother is very busy with her full time teaching job and I feel that barging into the room in the middle of a movie to play a game is rude, but how else could I ensure some family time without disturbing her? Am I being too pushy, and should I leave them to their leisure time because they are busy."

How sweet and sad is that letter! The other day I was getting frozen yogurt (my favorite) and spied a mom sitting with her young teen son having some yogurt after school. The mom was busy texting away on her phone, while her son, hunched over the table, just kind of sat there looking lost. I know we are always talking about how rude our teens are can't be separated from their phones, but how about you? How attached are you to yours?

Believe it or not, many teens do want to spend time with you, they are just embarrassed to ask, lest it sound needy and immature. In a questionnaire I gave to 60 teens ages 14-18, this very issue was oft repeated when asked: I LOVE WHEN MY PARENT (S):

  • Ask me to go places with them because I really don't get to do that a lot.
  • Spend time just watching TV with me because I never get to spend time with them.
  • Ask me to do things with them cause that's the best.
  • Can just talk and hang out and have fun with me.

Our lives are all pretty crazy, especially if you are working, taking care of an elderly parent, and have kids. Getting laundry and food shopping done, returning emails, and god forbid take some time for yourself is a full day. But your teens are watching your every move,and if they see that it's alright to multitask then they will do it too. But another takeaway from them, is that you are just too busy for them. Are you constantly checking your phone when your kids are in the car, at a restaurant, before and after dinner, while you are watching one of their sports practices and games. Do you take your work home with you, and your kids get that you are unavailable?  Are you halfway in or all the way?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Teen Texting: A Translation Manuel For Their Secret Language

I recently found this glossary of letter combinations that teens use to keep parents in the dark. Enjoy!

PIR = Parent in room
PAL = Parents are Listening
AITR = Adult in the room
PAW = Parents are Watching
PA or PA911 = Parent Alert
CD9 or Code 9 = Parent around
99 = Parent gone
303 = Mom

And now for the language of sex!

GNOC = Get naked on camera
GYPO = Get your pants off
IWSN= I want sex now
LH6 = Let’s have sex
CU46 = See you for sex
53X= Sex
8 = Oral sex
TDTM = Talk dirty to me
PRON= Porn
IPN= I’m posting naked
NIFOC= Naked in front of computer
WTTP= Want to trade pictures?
 ?^= Want to Hook Up? NSA=No Strings Attached
RU/18 = Are You Over 18?
I&I = Intercourse & Inebriation

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Minefield Of Middle School Friendships

Recently I met with a group of moms of 6th graders. The pain in the room was palpable. Why are these kids so mean to each other? And why aren't  parents on top of their kid's meanness? There is nothing more painful than comforting your young teen who has been excluded from some event that ALL her friends have been invited too, except for her or him. And often adding insult to injury is that the parent of the excluded can not understand why the parent of the excluder doesn't step in and tell her child that either everyone is invited or no one is invited.

Middle school reeks havoc with friendships. Kids in 6th grade come into middle school with their best friends from elementary school. But in the melting pot of new kids from the other schools in town, new kids who have moved into town and kids who have moved from private school to public school, the old friend relationships often takes a hit. Maybe a new kid sees in opening in a group, forms an alliance with a "new friend" and courts that group for membership. She may see someone in that group as a barrier to membership and seeks to oust that kid to make space for herself. There is nothing more important in middle school than having "your group."

One of the moms in this group told me of an incident where all her daughter's best friends and one new friend had been invited to a sleepover, but not her. She was devastated, and found out that the "new girl" had lobbied against her inclusion. As we dug a bit deeper, I found out that the new girl had not been invited to an after school outing that the excluded girl had hosted. Are you following me here? So I think that the new girl was doing a little "payback" for not being invited to the after school event. 'If she didn't invite me to her thing than I'll make sure she doesn't get invited to this other thing." Oy, yes it's petty, it's hurtful, and it's normal.

Now the question that came up with these moms, is should they intervene, and make sure that everyone is included? Here is what I think. In elementary school, it is all for one and one for all. Everyone is included as much as possible. But as kids move into adolescence, friendships take on a new dimension. When they were younger, any body would do, as kids get older, they do begin to look more closely at their friends. Do I even like this kid? Do we have anything in common? Maybe one of the friends is ready to move on to more teenagery behavior, and feels like they have outgrown an old friend. Is it the parent's job to keep these friendships, unfortunately no. Your teen does have a right to move on from people. But as a parent it is your job to help them do it with as much kindness and mindfulness as they can. Because as kids grow into teens, they do become more narcissistic, and are looking out mostly for themselves. They do need some help.

In that earlier example, I do think both of the moms might have said to their daughters:" Hey honey, I noticed you didn't invite X. She has always been one of your good friends. What's up with that? I think her feelings will be really hurt. I get that your friends might be changing, but maybe we can figure out a way for you to that without hurting her feelings." Your job as a parent during this difficult time of transitioning friendships is not to make them feel guilty for wanting to move on, but to help them with a strategy that will be the least hurtful. Middle school friendship transitions are probably the hardest it will ever be. These kids  are so vulnerable and so much is changing for them simultaneously that as parents we just want to protect them from all this hurt. Hurt is part of life, and teaching them coping and recovery skills can help.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Power Of Understanding

When I was 13 my father died. It was 1964. It happened just before the end of 8th grade. It was sudden, and without warning. My dad dropped me off at school that morning and then was heading off to the hospital for a routine hernia operation. He had assured me it was no biggie, and that he’d be home the next day. By the time I arrived home after hanging out with my best friend Patty at the local tennis courts after school, my father had gone
 into cardiac arrest, was in a coma, and died a week later.

People often ask me why I became a parenting expert, and where the inspiration came for writing my books. It was losing my dad at 13. Honestly I can remember those feelings of loneliness, embarrassment, and loss like it was yesterday. The loneliness was not because I didn’t have friends or family to comfort me. I had many wonderful people in my life. But I was comforted from the outside not from within. Friends distracted me with activities, family with meals and company, but my feelings were locked away. My mom was bereft. She had lost the love of her life, and with only a week to mourn she was forced to take over my dad’s busy medical laboratory, and went from being a stay at home mom like everybody else’s mom to a working mom, like nobody else’s mom. More embarrassment came from being the girl with the “dead dad. Seriously, no one else was dying. No cancers, heart attacks, or car accidents, I was the only kid I knew whose parent had died. I felt different and unique, but definitely not in a good way. I did everything in my power to look and be normal, because the biggest curse for a teenager is to be different. My worry about how people would think about me or act around me forced me to send my emotional self underground. 

When I was with my friends or family I was chirpy, bubbly Joani. The person I had always been. But after school, alone in my house, under a blanket, eating a bag of Oreo cookies for comfort, I was the real me; the girl who felt completely alone. This was 1964, and the days of having a therapist on speed dial had yet to come. Since I acted and seemed like I was OK, everybody assumed I was OK. But I was not OK. Oreo cookies as a diet staple made me fat. Report cards were a humiliation, D’s and C’s. And the final insult was that all my friends had boyfriends, I did not. I was grieving, and I was depressed, and no one knew. 

Fast forward to adulthood and becoming a therapist. I was on a mission; I would leave no teenager misunderstood! But I realized as time went on, and then when I became a mother, that teaching parents to understand their children might be a better ambition. 

Unfortunately for parents, we often find ourselves so focused on our kid’s futures, that we sometimes forget to live in the moment with them. We worry that if they don’t do their homework, get good grades, get involved in activities, clean their room, come home on time, stay away from drugs/alcohol/sex, etc., they might unknowingly shoot themselves in the foot and screw up their chances for getting into the best schools, getting the best jobs, and becoming the best people they can be.Teens, however, have a completely different perspective on the future. They are not looking ahead, one year, three years, five years; in fact, they can barely make to the next minute. And when parents don’t get that, don’t understand that the small, seemingly insignificant events which teens experience on a daily basis constantly distract them, there is a huge disconnect and a common refrain from kids: “you just don’t understand.”

Amazingly in the years after my father died, not one person said to me: “ You must be feeling so sad. You’ve lost your dad, and you kind of lost your mom too. You have so much more responsibility than any of your other friends, taking care of running the household while your mom is working and grieving. Your life really sucks right now, doesn’t it?” Just knowing that someone got me…and got it, would have given me so much relief, and helped me to move forward.

So take a minute and think about your kids. Are you just focusing on the behavior? Is it just that they are lazy, or spend too much time on social networking, or don’t care about school? Could there be some other things going on beneath the surface? What might be the issues that are causing their distraction or change in attitude towards you? Perhaps they worry about feeling accepted by their friends, or worry about their own competence when it comes to school or sports, or whatever interests they have. Are they sensing and picking up on tensions and issues that are going on in the family, and find it hard to focus on school? Give them the gift of understanding. “ You know honey, I get keeping up with all this social networking stuff is actually really hard. I know how important it is to feel accepted by your friends,” rather than just getting mad at them for being on their phone 24/7. Or, “you know honey, I know things have been stressful around here, with (fill in the blank with family stressors) and we are all pretty quick to get angry at each other. I know that must make it hard for you to concentrate sometimes.” Rather than, you are missing a million homework assignments, and your grades are going down the tubes!”

There is nothing more powerful and comforting than being understood. It’s not easy to get out of our own way sometimes and give this simple gift to our kids. Just ask me, I have been a mother for 31 years, and I am still working on it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Balancing Work And Family

Do you and/or your partner sometimes leave for work in the morning, knowing that the return home might be days later from a business trip, or late at night after long hours on the job? This is never easy. It is not easy for the kids who don't see one or more of their parents very often or for any length of time, and who seem out of the loop about what's going on in their lives.  It is also not easy for the parents who feel conflicted about not giving enough to their job, or conflicted about not giving enough to their family.

There have been a confluence of situations with families this week that gave me pause for thought. For one single mom, she has had to turn over most of the parenting responsibilities to her mom, who luckily lives in the same complex. Her job demands now that she travel 3 or 4 days a week, and as a single mom, with full custody of her teen, this is a situation fraught with ambivalence. She has to earn her living, and her daughter needs to be supervised, but together they have little time. Another single dad with 3 kids, has a team of nannies looking after his elementary and teen aged kids. He too, must travel, knows his kids are well cared for, but not by him. And finally, I was watching a documentary about the life of working in an advertising agency, and the toll long hours can wreak on families. One particular scene showed a young dad receiving a phone call from his wife, reminding him that he hadn't seen his kids for 4 nights running. Feeling guilt and sadness, the father secretly leaves his office to steal a bedtime ritual with his kids. The kids run to their dad, climbing all over him like a jungle gym, until a call from the office demands he return to deal with an imminent deadline. The kids burst into tears, not understanding why their daddy can't just stay home. They do not understand deadlines! The pain on this guy's face, having to leave his children, and the pain on his wife's on being left with the children was palpable. Real life, real conflict!! Sound familiar?

Young children can be bribed, reasoned with and cuddled. Teens, not so much. Entering in and out of a teen's life is not easy. They are apt to be angry that mom or dad is unavailable when they are needed and resent the parent for wanting to bud in on a life they are not much a part of. Such was the case with this single mom. The daughter's life is unlike any of her friends. She lives in a wealthy suburban town where her friends live in large comfortable houses. She lives in an apartment. Her friends can go home after school to houses where a parent is present, she has to go to her grandmother's. She often has to sleep at her grandmother's. She loves her grandmother, but misses the comfort of just being able to hang in her own room, when she wants. She and mom are not in a good place. There is unspoken resentment and anger from the daughter. The mom feels awful, and guilty most of the time.

If you have a partner, or you are the parent whose hours at work outnumber the hours at home, you have to work hard at letting your teen know you understand that this can be difficult. You do not need to  apologize for your work, cause that is what you have to do to provide for your family, but understanding how this might be a difficult for your teen, and communicating them to them is vital.

Here is a conversation I suggested she have with her daughter, one she has never had. '' You know honey, I was thinking the other day while I was sitting on the plane that your life is so different from your friends, and how hard that might be for you sometimes. I admire you so much for your ability to be so flexible, and to often have to give up your own comforts and routines just because of my schedule. I don't think I have ever told you how much I really appreciate all you do and all you often have to give up because of the kind of life we have. I love you, and think you are amazing for putting up with all this. "

Most times a teen just needs to be validated that its OK to feel that their life isn't they way they wish it was,  and that they wish their parents didn't have to work so much, and were away so much. You don't need to buy them expensive gifts to prove your love. Making your teen feel important can be as easy as having the conversation above, and a quick daily text saying, "I miss you", or, "hope you had a good day", or a nightly bedtime ritual call when you are away. No need to feel guilty or defensive, just loving. That can go a long long way!

I think this would be a great holiday gift!!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Instagram: I'm More Popular Than You Are

Remember the good old days when posting a photo on instagram was just about showing friends what you were up too? Well no more, especially if you are the parent of a teenage girl. The article below is definitely required reading for Instagram 101. I will summarize, but I not only encourage you to read it for yourselves, but also make it required reading for your teen, and then get their take on how this phenomenon affects them personally.

Accumulating "likes" is the least of instagram, but a really important part of it. If I post a photo and get "a million likes," I am popular, at least for that photo. But I also have to "like" other people's photo's so that when I have posted, they will like me back! It is a game of tit for tat, that goes on 24/7. No respite. If few people like your photo, then you feel "instashame." A term teenagers have coined for the absence of "popularity and "likes" on instagram. This is very serious business, and I'm actually not joking.

We have a whole generation of kids basing their self-esteem on how many kids "like" some silly photo they have posted. Its no wonder so many kids have depression! Seriously!!

Here are some other strategies teens use to raise or lower the popularity of their supposed friends:

  • being tagged in a photo even if you're not in it = popular
  • commenting on a photo you "like" with a "TBH ILYSM" (translation: to be honest I love you so much = popular
  • commenting on a photo with "TBH we don't hang out that much" = not popular
  • refusing to follow someone who is following you on instagram, is basically a F##k you!
  • being cropped out of a photo that you were originally in, a big F##k you!
  • giving your friendship a public 1-10 rating. This could mean popular or outcast depending on where you land on the scale
  • seeing all your friends in a photo posted on instagram from a party or sleepover, let's you know that you were excluded from an event you think you should have been at =feeling really really bad.
The article gets into the specifics so I will leave the author to finish your education. More importantly is what you do with this information. Here is one thing you shouldn't do: When you talk to your teen, do not lecture or pass judgement on the ridiculousness of this pastime. Of course from an adult perspective it is ridiculous! But seen through the eyes of your teen, it is serious business. And if you want your teen to be able to process their feelings about this, you need to start where they are. Which is to say to them: "I get how important this is in your life. It both gives you a lot of power to make your friends feel really good or really bad, and it also gives your friends power to make you feel really good or really bad. Tell me what this is like for you? Are their days that you feel bad because you don't feel like you've gotten enough "likes"? Do you think you have made someone else feel bad by not "liking' their photos?

Parents, you really do have to have conversations in ernest about this. I know it may make you gag, and want to take their phone and throw it out the window. I know I would. You can't do that, but you can limit the amount of time they can obsess about this. Please shut your teen's phone off during school, and for a few hours a night, whether they have homework or not. They will hate you for a week or two, but ultimately will feel relief that they can get off the endless cycle of "likes" and worry about what their friends are thinking about them. Their teenage brain is overloading on this stuff, and too much of this can be toxic!